You hear it on radio, you read it in national and local news, you have to listen to it on a regularly from fellow fans and couch-analysts alike – the Cowboys are going 8-8 or less.
The reason offered? The Cowboys organization did nothing to improve what was a horrendous defense in 2013; many further suggesting that the defense may in fact be worse as a result of losing DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher and Sean Lee, the best players on the 2013 defense.
Certainly, there is some truth to that. The Cowboys defense was terrible last year and despite statistical proof suggesting we should see improvement, I understand things can always be worse. But this year is a new year and the Cowboys, contrary to popular belief, actually made several moves in the offseason to remedy their many leaks on the defensive side of the ball.
It's safe to say the Cowboys didn’t sit on their hands during the offseason.
A concerted effort was made to address the issues of last year, with a predominant focus on correcting their depth issues. Considering that there are only so many moves a team can make in Free Agency/Draft, especially whilst the Cowboys have had to contend with a limited cap, I'd say the Cowboys made quite a few changes on the defensive side of the ball.
Perhaps the real question is the quality of those moves – unfortunately, we will have to wait for the season to unfold to bring out a measuring stick. But at this point, I'm counting on six of the above sixteen players to be significant contributors. Could be more or less, depending on injuries and surprise contributors.
The other aspect of potential improvement this defense experienced to consider is that the Cowboys are in their second year in the attacking 4-3.
By merit of being more comfortable in the new scheme, several returning players should show some type of improvement from last year. Players such as Morris Claiborne, Bruce Carter, J.J. Wilcox, Kyle Wilber, DeVonte Holloman, Orie Lemon, among a few others, are entering the put-up or shut-up phase of their careers. Clearly some will answer in the negative, if not yield the same results of 2013; that is the nature of this sport. But serious odds would be defied if all of them ended up being blank rounds in Marinelli’s revolver.
The last thing that tends to get ignored in the “Cowboys defense is terrible” conversation/debate is that the Cowboys offense doesn’t need as much help as the average NFL offense.
This Cowboys offense will be good to great…with the only caveat being if Tony Romo can stay healthy. It is not outside the realm of possibility for the Cowboys to average above and beyond 28 points per game; in fact, considering they averaged 27.4 in 2013, I would take the over on that easily…possibly higher depending on the stakes.
So while this defense may not be the shutdown/shutout defense that places teams on contender-watch, that's not exactly necessary for the Cowboys to finally post a winning record after three years and make the playoffs. The Cowboys are absolute contenders within their division, and should be considered by their divisional foes as the team to beat, having posted a 5-6 record in 2013.
Consider the Cowboys 2014 regular season schedule and the offensive/defensive rank each team posted in 2013.
Teams (overall offensive rank / overall defensive rank in 2013):
|49ers (24th / 5th)
Titans (22nd / 14th)
Rams (30th / 15th)
Saints (4th / 4th)
Texans (11th / 7th)
Seahawks (18th / 1st)
Giants (28th / 8th)
Redskins (9th / 18th)
|Cardinals (12th / 6th)
Jaguars (31st / 27th)
Giants (28th / 8th)
Eagles (2nd / 29th)
Bears (8th / 30th)
Eagles (2nd / 29th)
Colts (15th / 20th)
Redskins (9th / 18th)
*Cowboys (16th / 32nd)
Granted, not too many conclusions can be drawn from the above – too many inconsistent variables occur over the course of a season, notwithstanding the fact that each of these teams played a different schedule and played the same teams at different times and different strengths. Furthermore, many of these teams evolved over the offseason and very well could show vast improvement on one or both sides of the ball. By that same logic, many of these teams could also show regression as a result of injury, key contributors lost in the offseason, career slumps or a combination of the three.
However, one argument to be made is that teams that are stronger on the defensive side of the ball and not so much on the offensive side, such as the 49ers, Seahawks, and Giants, will at the very least be a good game for the Cowboys…not necessarily a win, mind you, but you can count on them being close.
The opposition that transversely shows to be a strength on offense and not on defense such as the Bears, Eagles and Redskins, are the games that very well could be decided by who has the ball last in a shootout. Once again, likely still a relatively close game.
The teams the Cowboys really have to be concerned about are teams who prove to be a strong on both sides of the ball like the Saints, Cardinals and (believe it or not) the Texans. Finally, the teams that prove to be neither a strength on offense or defense, the Cowboys should be able to win, such as the Jaguars, Titans and Rams. The only wild card team left is the Colts, who were pretty mediocre on both sides of the ball, which gives them an edge over the Cowboys…for now.
The point is, in games that are close and somewhat evenly matched, it could go either way for the Cowboys. It very well may come down to the head coach with the best in-game management. Clearly Garrett has struggled in this area in the past, however, with the addition of Scott Linehan taking the reins of the offense, in-game management is an area that I am expecting improvement in.
Last year, there were three games in which game management was the deciding factor that led to losses for a Cowboys team that held a lead in the 3rd quarter against the Chargers, Lions, and Packers. The Cowboys win any one of those games, and week 17 would not have mattered; the Cowboys would have gone to the playoffs. Improvement in that area alone, regardless of what was done on either side of the ball throughout the offseason, could be the difference in whether or not the Cowboys finally post a winning record after three years of mediocrity.
To be honest, with the unknown quantities and question marks that literally arise at every position across the defense, it’s difficult for me to confidently predict anything higher than 9-7. But as I argued in a previous contribution, there is a difference between having questions and knowing the defense has not improved.
We are in the zero hour of this season. Expectations should remain tempered. But a losing season is far from being a foregone conclusion.
QB Dak Prescott Continues To Come Through In Clutch Situations
Dak Prescott is possibly the most criticized quarterback in all of football.
Of course, this comes with the territory of being the Cowboys starting quarterback, but each throw Prescott attempts is placed under an intense microscope, even by NFL standards. We analyze every snap of every game, looking to find where Dak was right or wrong with this reads.
There's no question, though, that Prescott has been inconsistent throughout his young career. Week to week, drive to drive, and even play to play, we seemingly have no gauge on just how Dak Prescott will perform.
One scenario where we can say with confidence he will come through, however, is when it matters most. Last Sunday, in yet another must-win game for the Dallas Cowboys, Prescott orchestrated a game winning drive to lead his team over the favored Atlanta Falcons.
The Cowboys offense was pedestrian for much of the afternoon, but when Prescott got the ball in a tied game, I felt confident he would give Brett Maher a chance to win the game. Even on the road, and even after the offense had struggled a bit through the air all day.
Prescott got the ball late in the fourth quarter, looking to answer former NFL MVP Matt Ryan's game tying touchdown strike to Julio Jones. Dak went for it all on the first play, looking for Michael Gallup deep down the sideline, but the ball fell incomplete. After that throw, Prescott went 4/5 for 45 yards, including a huge completion to Cole Beasley, putting Dallas in game winning field goal range.
This confidence in Dak Prescott is justified, as is shown by his numbers in late game situations. Prescott now has 12 game winning drives, tying him for the league lead over the last three seasons. For comparison sake, Eagles starter Carson Wentz has just 3 game winning drives over that same stretch.
Overall the box score shows a rather quiet day for Prescott, but it was exactly the kind of Sunday they need from him. He completed over 60% of his passes, ran for a touchdown, and avoided the key turnover which could have sung this close game.
He played efficient football, and gave the Cowboys a chance to win it late. Then, he did what he does best, making plays in clutch situations and coming through in the 2 minute drill.
For all of Dak Prescott's flaws, those end-of-half and end-of-game situations have been a clear strength for the young quarterback, and continued to be this week.
Cowboys en Español: Evaluando la Administración
Entre los aficionados de los Dallas Cowboys, pocas cosas son criticadas tan frecuentemente como la administración de la franquicia que no ha ganado ningún Super Bowl en más de dos décadas. Se ha convertido en un equipo que, a pesar de ser el más valioso en el mundo deportivo, no ha sido nada relevante en el emparrillado. Lo que alguna vez fue una dinastía se ha convertido en una unidad que rompe frecuentemente los corazones de los fans.
Jerry Jones y Stephen Jones, siendo los operadores del ámbito deportivo del negocio familiar, son criticados semana tras semana y en gran parte por justa razón. Pero en gran parte, por cosas no muy válidas.
Cambios de Coach
A mi parecer, lo más criticable para la administración de este equipo viene cuando hablamos de los coaches. Muchos se burlan de los Cincinnati Bengals y de la manera en la que están atascados con el Head Coach Marvin Lewis. Con Jason Garrett al volante, la situación para los Cowboys no es nada diferente.
A mediados de la temporada 2018, no parece que esta narrativa vaya a cambiar. Una vez más, los Cowboys arrancaron de una manera muy inconsistente y ya no sabemos que esperar de ellos. Gran parte de las derrotas, la mayor parte, es el coacheo.
Sin duda el equipo no será exactamente el mismo en 2019, pero ¿serán suficientes los cambios como para decidir quedarse con el mismo capitán que no ha podido mantener el barco navegando por años?
A diferencia de como se manejan muchos equipos en la liga, los Jones fungen como general managers de su propio equipo. Con la ayuda de Will McClay han logrado superar varios de los fracasos de los Jones de antaño, pero actualmente, siendo sinceros no han hecho un mal trabajo.
A pesar de las critícas de Abril, Leighton Vander Esch está probando haber valido más que la pena. Siendo objetivos, aparte de Taco Charlton en el 2017, todas las selecciones de primera ronda de los Cowboys han sido valiosas. La línea ofensiva, el corredor, un cornerback que por fin se está perfilando como uno de los mejores en la liga.
En cuanto a la segunda ronda, ha habido varias críticas, muchas con razón. Pero el mejor caza cabezas del equipo, DeMarcus Lawrence, el linebacker Jaylon Smith, Randy Gregory y más están teniendo un impacto muy fuerte en el equipo.
La administración se ha visto en la necesidad de tomar decisiones bastante difíciles después de una temporada de nueve victorias en 2017. El LB Anthony Hitchens fue liberado, Dan Bailey se fue inesperadamente, se confió en Byron Jones para tomar su opción de quinto año.
Hasta ahora, pura decisión digna de aplaudirse. Pero ninguna como la más reciente de todas: Amari Cooper.
Por más caro que haya salido, los Cowboys merecen bastante crédito por haber mejorado muchísimo su posición de WR. Si el equipo llega a tener una oportunidad esta temporada, será en gran parte por él.
No cabe ninguna duda en mi cabeza de que los Jones han cometido errores a lo largo de los años, el más evidente siendo la resistencia de dejar ir a Jason Garrett. Pero a pesar de esto, la administración ha tomado excelentes decisiones y ha realizado el draft muy bien. En ese aspecto en específico, les aplaudo.
Sack Numbers Don’t Tell DeMarcus Lawrence’s 2018 Story
Coming off of a career year in 2017, many fans expected DeMarcus Lawrence to continue his ridiculous sack production this season. After all, he is once again in a "contract year" due to the franchise tag, and fans are hoping the Cowboys can secure him longterm this offseason.
Through the first four games of 2018, Lawrence looked as ridiculous and unstoppable as ever. He had 5.5 sacks, tied for the league lead, and was dictating the pass protection schemes of every offense the Cowboys were facing.
Since that hot start, though, DeMarcus Lawrence has recorded just 1 sack, falling behind some of the league leaders he was once ahead of. This has some people scratching their heads and wondering if Lawrence's career year in 2017 was just that, a career year. One which he will never replicate again, and one which the Cowboys should factor out when talking contract extensions.
Here's why those people are wrong.
Let's first talk about what makes DeMarcus Lawrence so good, and then we'll get into the full context of the Cowboys defense and how that explains some of the drop in sacks.
Lawrence, unlike some of the league's other top pass rushers, is a complete 4-3 defensive end. He is one of, if not the best run defending defensive ends in football, as shown by his 12 tackles for loss on the season (only Aaron Donald and Danielle Hunter have more).
Much of the year, the Cowboys run defense has boiled down to Lawrence making splash plays, as we saw against the Washington Redskins. Adrian Peterson was gashing the Cowboys during that game, and the only one who did anything to stop him was DeMarcus Lawrence, as indicated by his 3 tackles for loss that Sunday.
There's also the point that 6.5 sacks through half the season is, well, good. It's really good! And when you couple his sack numbers with his solid pressure and QB hit stats, you can see that Lawrence is having a very good season.
Then there is the context of this entire Cowboys defense, specifically their defensive line and pass rush. To put it bluntly, DeMarcus Lawrence has been their only consistent rusher this season. Though we came into the year with high hopes for Randy Gregory, and cautious optimism about first round pick Taco Charlton, neither have been all that impressive this season.
Somebody, anybody, has to step up and become a threat opposite of Lawrence. David Irving could help matters with his interior pass rush ability, but he has been unavailable for basically the entire season.
Without another pass rusher for offense's to even think twice about, Lawrence is getting double teamed and/or chipped by a tight end or running back on just about every rush. It's becoming rare that Lawrence is in a true one-on-one pass rush situation.
Of course, if you are elite, offenses are going to shift protections to you in this way and you still have to find ways to be productive.
And thus far in 2018, DeMarcus Lawrence is doing just that.
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